McMurphy is Not a Christ Figure in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Literary fiction is littered with references to Christianity. It is very obviously a large and influential force in the western world so it is hardly surprising that a novel such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which is so questioning of our society and moral values, should be so full of references to what is arguably the basis of these values. What the question asks, however, is if the character of McMurphy is portrayed as a Christ figure. A Christ figure being a reflection of the New Testament messiah within the characters actions, beliefs and effect on those around him. The figure will then redeem his followers, lead them to salvation, be martyred and resurrected.
The similarities are prolific in their presence in certain parts of the novel, the very context of both stories shows similarities, both are dealing with an oppressed factor that is set free by an outsider who teaches and challenges the system in which the oppressed are caught.
The first allusion to the New Testament comes when the chief introduces the reader to the patient Ellis. Ellis' arms our outspread in the pose of crucifixion, an affectation caused by many treatments on the Electro-Shock Therapy(EST) table, a pose that McMurphy later adopts when he receives the treatment. Ellis also tells Billy Bibbitt before the fishing trip to be ` a fisher of men' one of Christ's instructions to his disciples. The purpose of the character seems to be an introduction for the reader to this theme and to have it introduced so early on both highlights the universal nature of the struggle that McMurphy and the patients face and also allows the reader to be susceptible to the parallels and allusions Kesey uses.
The Fishing trip itself is full of references to Christ. The number of men that accompany McMurphy are twelve; the same number of Christ's disciples, many of whom were fishermen . During the fishing the men come into themselves, following McMurphy's lead when he uses the `advantage' in Harding's words of mental illness to intimidate and outwit two gas-station attendants ` The doc wouldn't lie like that about just any patients, but we ain't ordinary nuts; we're every bloody one of us hot of the criminal insane ward, on our way to San Quentin.' As the men and the doctor grow in confidence McMurphy retreats further into the background , allowing the men to individually challenge themselves and grow. For example when there are too few life jackets McMurphy does not do as most heroes would and go without, instead he forces another of the men to do so and assert themselves, in the Chief's words ` It started slow and pumped itself full, swelling the men bigger and bigger.'
Further allusion to Christ's life comes when McMurphy and the Chief are disturbed following the incident in the shower room protecting George from the violence of the...